This post has been updated.
The night before No. 2 Cornell men’s hockey took the ice to face Rensselaer, it jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead against Union before allowing the Dutchmen to climb back into the contest with two late goals.
While the Red left Lynah that night with a 5-2 victory, the game exposed Cornell’s inability to apply sustained pressure throughout the game. Saturday’s contest against the Engineers followed a very similar script.
The Red scored three early goals before letting off the gas pedal. RPI cut the deficit to one in the third period, but Cornell held off the Engineers and struck on an empty net to secure a 4-2 win.
On paper, the Union and RPI games appear to be very similar, but head coach Mike Schafer ’86 was far more pleased with his team’s performance on Saturday night compared to Friday.
“We obviously got off to a quick start, but I really didn’t think we let up that much tonight,” Schafer said. “We didn’t give up that many scoring chances throughout the course of the game — I thought our energy was good.
“They came back and made it a game,” Schafer continued, “but it was much different from last night’s game where I didn’t think we were alert on the bench.”
Just as it did against Union, the Red got off to a hot start. After tallying some early shots, Cornell lit the lamp first as senior forward Noah Bauld put away a rebound off a shot by sophomore defenseman Joe Leahy.
Immediately after, Cornell struck again, catching the Engineers off guard. Eighteen seconds after Bauld’s goal, junior defenseman Alex Green doubled the Red’s lead. After RPI goaltender Owen Savory slipped and fell with Cornell pressuring, Green struck from the left circle, finding the top corner of the net.
“I think it gave us some momentum for sure,” Green said about his goal. “Obviously, whenever you can get up to an early lead, that’s helpful and you can be a little more comfortable for the rest of the period or game.”
Minutes later, the Red received the first power-play opportunity of the night after RPI’s Mike Gornall was called for a tripping infraction. While Cornell whiffed on this chance, it received another man advantage soon after with Daniel DiGrande being sent to the penalty box for interference at the 16:32 mark in the first.
This time, Cornell converted. Senior defenseman Yanni Kaldis, who scored twice in his last outing against Union, found twine once again, beating Savory to extend the Red’s lead to three.
After 1:24 in the middle frame, Rensselaer’s Ture Linden connected from the point to cut the Red’s edge to two goals. Cornell had the chance to restore its three-goal lead on another power-play opportunity, but failed to score.
Over the course of the middle frame, the Engineers began to turn up the heat. After only putting four shots on goal in the first period, RPI peppered junior goaltender Matt Galajda with shots and came close on two rebound chances, but the Red managed to clear the puck out each time.
“It was mostly our energy,” said junior forward Brenden Locke. “We had everyone on the bench this game involved and cheering each other on. Whereas last night, it didn’t seem like that energy was there.”
RPI then received its first power play following a whistle on freshman forward Matt Stienburg for holding. Cornell’s penalty kill came through, denying the Engineers to preserve its two-goal edge.
For the rest of the period, each team had its offensive bursts, but none culminated in a score as the Red went into the final intermission with a 3-1 lead.
“[RPI’s] a good hockey team,” Schafer said. “If we would have let our guard down, they would have been able to make some plays, but we stayed up on our gaps, back-checked hard and just played more solid. You could feel the energy on the bench.”
Early in the final frame, RPI further dented Cornell’s lead. Todd Burgess whipped a shot past Galajda from the right circle to make it 3-2.
“It was unfortunate, their kid — Burgess — made a good play,” Schafer said. “He threw it back across the far side and caught [Galajda]. I don’t think [Galajda] could have seen him.”
Each team traded shots on goal before two penalties were assessed. Following a scrum near the RPI net, junior forward and captain Morgan Barron and Jake Johnson were given offsetting penalties for embellishment and holding, respectively.
The ensuing 4-on-4 yielded no scores from either side. Neither team generated much on offense after the penalties, and Rensselaer opted for an empty net in the waning minutes.
Cornell survived the Engineer attack, and a pair of Red skaters broke through the RPI line with Locke delivering the dagger on the empty-net goal.
“It’s always good to get one — I haven’t put a puck in the back of the net for a pretty long time,” Locke said. “So, it was nice to get that one. We’ve struggled a little bit this year to get empty-net goals, so it was good just to bury that one and put them away.”
Now on a five-game winning streak, the Red will go back on the road to square off against a pair of Ivy foes in Yale and Brown next weekend.